That sinking graduation feeling

Opinion May 30, 2013 0 Comments

by Pete Mazzaccaro

There’s something about the air in late spring – maybe it’s the pollen or the ramping humidity – that never fails to remind me of graduation.

I suppose it’s a fitting time to graduate. Spring is all about promise, right? And graduation is one of those things that has our minds on promise. It’s the end of one chapter and the start of something else.

I’ve had a number of them – nursery school, kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, college, grad school. Lots of kids in Chestnut Hill have graduated from college or are just about to graduate from high school or elementary school. My last one was 15 years ago, so it’s hard to remember the feeling first-hand. But for the rest of us, we can look forward to the graduations of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and family friends.

The graduation speech I remember best was delivered by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney at my college graduation. It was given by a union leader to a packed room at the Hartford Civic Center. This was in 1997, the year the Hartford Whalers would decide to pack up and move to North Carolina, never to skate in the Civic Center again.

But back to the graduation speech.

Sweeney used the opportunity of the graduation speech to paint a grim and mostly realistic picture of an America in which jobs were being shipped overseas. All of us, with our dreams of right-around-the-corner post-college employment, would be lucky, Sweeney said, to find any work.

A pall fell across the entire civic center, stuffed with thousands of graduates and parents. Sweeney had just rained on our parade.

That speech was all anyone could talk about. How dare Sweeney dampen the day!

That was the prevailing attitude of the parents. My friends and I, though, suspected he was right. We all thought we’d be able to leverage our college degrees into well-paying entry-level jobs in the industries of our choice. But when we tried, it didn’t work out as planned.

I took my pathetic resume to Philadelphia and walked it right into the Philadelphia Weekly, Philadelphia Magazine and the Philadelphia Business Journal, even though I hadn’t written a single news story. Hey, I had published a poem in a journal devoted to beat literature. I thought I’d land something.

Sweeney was right about a lot of things. The days of being able to get out of college and grab a good paying job are long gone. College is the new high school. Those who want a decent career must go to grad school and, in the process, sink themselves even deeper into debt.

Also, though he didn’t know it then, the sweeping changes in the job landscape really kicked into high gear at about that time, as many fields became obsolete in the face of rapid technological innovation. The newspaper field is one of the worst. A recent survey by CareerCast of 200 jobs found that newspaper reporter was the worst possible career choice. It fared worse than meter maid, oil rig operator, roofer and lumberjack. If I were smart, I would have skipped college and gone right into plumbing. Or lumberjacking.

But don’t let me pull a Sweeney on anyone’s high hopes for graduation. Success is still out there. I like my job. And many other people who graduated with me are happy doing something productive, raising families, etc. It is possible.

It’s just getting a little bit harder all the time.

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